I have always loved languages, so when the time came for me to choose what to study at university, I went with the degree that allowed me to study more languages at the same time: Translation and Interpreting. I studied English and German as foreign languages and I deepened my knowledge in my two native languages: Catalan and Spanish. After graduating I decided that I wanted to see the world a bit (and continue to learn languages, of course) and I was lucky to get a job as a language teaching assistant in Germany. While I had a good knowledge of languages, I was clueless about teaching them, so I decided to enrol in a postgraduate course in teaching Spanish as a foreign language. I studied the course online with a university in Barcelona while I worked in Germany (yes, online learning also existed before Covid). Studying that course helped me make sense of what was going on in the language classroom and was definitely very helpful to navigate my first job in language teaching!
I began in 2013 and haven’t stopped since! I keep thanking my 22-year-old me for deciding to go down that path, absolutely no regrets. Spanish teaching has allowed me to live and work in wonderful places and to continue to learn about other languages and cultures along the way.
I came to Melbourne in 2018 with a Spanish government program to teach Spanish at an Australian university. Living in Northcote, during the three years I taught at university I became friends with other Spanish teachers and admin staff who worked at El Patio, and met Ana and Toni on several occasions. So, when my time finished at uni, I knew exactly where I wanted to go!
I live pretty much in the Antipodes of my hometown, Barcelona (not quite though, it would be somewhere in New Zealand), but you see my point, I literally couldn’t live any further away from home, and yet every day I walk into a classroom and I get a taste of home. I feel lucky to be able to be able to speak my language and share my culture with students here. Australians have a lot to offer too, every day I learn from them and their diverse backgrounds, which allows for a fun intercultural exchange in the classroom.
I believe that many Australians (although I feel like it’s English-speakers in general) start learning a language without actually believing that it is possible to become fluent in it and to achieve an advanced level. As a teacher it is sometimes challenging to convince students that it is possible - I have seen it happen thousands of times! Learning a language is not an impossible feat only available to a few talented individuals, anyone can do it, Australians too, although it does require some time and effort!
Each student has to find what works for them, and it is important to find it sooner rather than later. There are different ways of revising the content of the previous class; some students like to make vocabulary lists or rewrite grammar rules or conjugations in their notebooks, others will prefer to write a text using the vocabulary and grammar learned in class, others will listen and repeat words and conjugations… There is no right or wrong, as long as it works for them. During the initial stages of learning Spanish it is important to experiment, ask other classmates for ideas and share experiences, there is something for everyone!
A little bit of embarrassment can go a long way!
For example, as an English learner, I used to hate trying to memorise long lists of phrasal verbs. I could read those lists a thousand times and I still wouldn’t be able to remember the difference between break up, break in or break out. They were my worst nightmare! But one night, during my exchange in Scotland, I went to a party with some other Spanish friends and, of course, we arrived a bit late. So the first person we ran into at the party asked us “did you guys just show up?”. A confusing conversation followed as we were trying to make sense of what he had just asked us. I can’t remember the details of that conversation nor of the rest of the party, except that I woke up the next day knowing that “show up” simply means “to arrive”.
Many students regret not having enough opportunities to practice Spanish in Melbourne, but they are out there. You just have to be brave enough to take them! Try to order in Spanish next time you go to your local Mexican restaurant or have a chat with your Chilean neighbour. Yes, you will probably make mistakes, blank and completely fail to understand their response, however, using the language in meaningful ways can help you remember vocabulary and grammar better (and it is more fun than just reading lengthy vocabulary lists).
There is no magic method for language teaching. I like to pick and choose what I think is the best of different methods and approaches to suit the needs of each group of students. However, I like to share my love for grammar and I believe it is an important part of language learning for adults, although it doesn’t need to be boring or scary! I like using games to practice grammar and images to explain it, and then create activities that allow students to use this grammar in real-life communicative scenarios.
Many students ask about the different varieties of Spanish and what accent “should they pick”. Firstly, I think it is very important for students to be exposed to different Spanish varieties from the beginning of their learning, mainly so that they can lose whatever fears they may have about them. Despite the different sounds, accents and words, Spanish is perfectly comprehensible across regions, and I invite my students to see these differences with appreciation for the richness they bring to the language rather than with fear. Luckily for our students, most regions of the Spanish-speaking world are represented by El Patio staff and I think that is a wonderful way of getting familiarised with them (binge-watching TV shows is also perfectly acceptable). Secondly, there isn’t a better variety than others, and there’s certainly no need to “pick”. Just speak in whatever way feels more comfortable to you, Spanish speakers will understand you either way.
Who understands the difference between “hizo sol” and “hacía sol”? With this image I introduce the much-feared topic of the contrast between the indefinido and imperfecto past tenses. (Inspired from the book Gramática básica del estudiante de español)
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By Mar Almató Llonch
April 8, 2021
Easy! Surprise your Spanish-learning friends, family or colleagues with a Gift Voucher. A voucher may be for a full course or to go toward a course fee or even for texts. Please note that you…